Elections Canada using different method to count First Nations voters after 2015 ballot shortages

Elections Canada says it has changed its formula for calculating the number of ballots for First Nations after some polling places ran out of ballots in 2015. 

Voting disrupted by ballot shortages at 5 First Nations in 2015

Elections Canada says it is doing more outreach with First Nations ahead of the 2019 federal election. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

Elections Canada says it has changed its formula for calculating the number of voters at First Nations after some polling places ran out of ballots in 2015. 

Regional media advisor Marie-France Kenny said the formula used for the last election calculated the number of ballots needed based on prior registration, despite allowing voters to register on the day. 

"It's now based on registered voters, yes, but also there are communications with the reserve to see how many eligible voters are there and not just the registered ones," Kenny said.

Late openings at polling stations and delays due to ballot shortages were among the problems reported across Canada in 2015.

A review found voting was disrupted at five on-reserve polling places:

  • Siksika Nation, Alta. (suspended 10-12 minutes).
  • Fort Hope, Ont. (10-12 minutes)
  • Moose Factory, Ont. (10-12 minutes)
  • One Arrow First Nation, Sask. (30 minutes)
  • Lake St. Martin, Man. (13 people unable to vote due to ballot shortage). 

Kenny said she does not believe problems at last year's election have damaged voters' faith in the system. 

"We are making sure it doesn't happen again so changing the formula for us is something key," she said. 

Grassy Narrows First Nations Chief Rudy Turtle, a federal NDP candidate, has written to Canada's chief electoral officer, Stéphane Perrault, asking for an explanation of what Elections Canada is doing differently to avoid problems this year. 

"First Nations living in the electoral district of Kenora have faced serious barriers to exercising their democratic rights in the past," Turtle said. 

NDP candidate Rudy Turtle, chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation, has written to Elections Canada to ensure the barriers to voting that arose in remote First Nations in the Kenora riding in 2015 don't happen again. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Kenny said Elections Canada workers are doing more outreach in 2019 to encourage people to register before election day on Oct. 21. 

"We're more accessible, we're doing a lot more outreach on reserves and making sure that they are aware that they need to register first and then what they need to vote, like pieces of ID," said Kenny. A full list of acceptable forms of ID is available on the Elections Canada website.

The Assembly of First Nations made a list of recommendations to better facilitate First Nation voter participation after the 2015 election. 

Those recommendations include mandating Elections Canada to support get-out-the-vote campaigns, ensuring First Nations have access to a community relations officer during the election period and hiring local community members to carry out registration drives.

with files from Jorge Barerra